This is part 2, part 1 can be found here.
We were the shadow people.
The lost boys and girls. The six of us who worked third shift were not invited to meetings or parties. No one sung Happy Birthday to us or bought us a cake. We were the forgotten souls that haunted the trucking halls after everyone went home. Yes, I know what it is like to be a ghost.
There was a certain level of mad freedom that came with working this late shift. For all of the rules were nonexistent for us. They disappeared in a poof of smoke once the day people left to continue their real lives.
- No internet? Sure (until the boss left).
- No music? Of course (until the last car drove away).
- Scheduled breaks and lunches? Yes (whatever).
Before I began this job I used to consider myself a good worker, trustworthy. But when thrown in an occupation I had no interest in, I seemed to be a lot more questionable than I ever imagined myself to be. It seems I am somewhat a rebel. James Dean. Marlon Brando. Go figure.
We did have a supervisor, but we rarely saw him. There was a good reason for this actually. He was having an affair at the time and checking in with us was one of his excuses for meeting up with his mistress. I never had to answer a call and make an excuse to his wife (who, by the way, was home with a baby), but other employees did. If I did ever get his wife on the phone, I am almost a hundred percent sure I would have told her.
The mistress was a secretary from the day shift, and oddly in that office this affair was not too surprising for me the longer I was there. Right from the first day sitting with Marian I could sense the amount of flirting going on around. In many ways it was like an uninhibited high school. No teachers or parents here to tell you no! And we night owls knew everyone’s secrets.
Yes, no one could keep a secret from us. We had access to every desk, every drawer. We would have read e-mails if we had the access!
Candy on (or in) your desk? One of us would have tried a piece. When it came to food we were like rats on a ship. We would eat any food left in the cafeteria and the cafeteria workers knew it, and would leave leftovers out for us, just planning to clean them up in the morning. I remember the peanut butter cookies being the best I had ever eaten in my life.
The sugar in a cookie is so, so much more sweet when the cookie is a secret cookie…
It quickly became obvious to me that writing a novel while being a day temp was nothing compared to what people did at night. But as long as the numbers were hit, everything was accounting for, no one cared about us. No one noticed us.
We were the shadow people.
The night I started this awful job, my supervisor only talked to me for about 20 minutes. I avoided talking about my degree this time. It wasn’t worth it, and that fact made me sad. I remember nodding a lot though at that meeting, and I reminded myself (like I did every night) this was just until my wife finished graduate school. My supervisor was impressed with my numbers (really?) and that was why he asked for me for the evenings. He then assigned me a trainer and sped away to meet his mistress in the parking lot.
My trainer’s name was Janet and she also was a knitter, but this time there were no baby pictures (thank God!). She was the gossip of the group though and had a story about everyone from the day shift. She didn’t hold anything back and when she learned something new she would announce it to the rest of us over our cubicle walls like a royal declaration. I figured out quickly this was someone you wanted on your side, since she could be potentially a dangerous enemy to anyone… no matter the time of day.
So many of the others that worked our shift didn’t have personalities. This is not me being cruel, it is just a fact. See, working in the evening can change you, and not in a good way.
For the year I worked this job, it was the loneliest time on my life. When I was home, my wife would be at school; by the time she got home, I was gone, leaving a dinner for her in the fridge. She would make a point to wake me and say goodbye each morning; and that brief exchange was the extent of our relationship for five days out of the week.
Oh, we would still talk over the phone. But it’s not the same as seeing the smile after a joke, or a look of concern when you are saying something serious. We lived in two different worlds. Hers was academic and filled with dancers and artists; she would speak to me of students, and maybe a great class she was taking as an elective on art. There was always a concert to prepare for, something to rehearse. Me, I lived with the shadow people and the hours between her departure in the morning to the start of my work day was spent in silence.
Horrible, soul-killing silence.
I went to the gym each morning which only was filled with retirees, and the extent of my conversation there was asking if I could turn the station each time someone left it on Fox News (which reminded me of the big manager). Then it would be lunch at the apartment, maybe I would be playing a video game (I did a lot of Final Fantasy then) or watching a movie or TV show (I watched the entire series of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, twice). Of course, all of this was just part of the countdown to the evening, and the data that was always waiting for me…
Each of us shadow people had our things, and mine was Harry Potter. Yes, the boy who lived saved me. I had the complete audiobooks and I would listen to them, one after another, each night. It got to such a point that I had almost entire sections of Prisoner of Azkaban memorized.
I was also a mad e-mailer. I would have entire conversations over the course of an evening thanks to them. And getting one was the equivalent of receiving a letter in a bottle while being stuck on an island. I was not alone!
I began to wonder if this is what life is like for a monk. And I was strangely surviving in this quiet and isolated lifestyle, each of us were. Of course, that doesn’t mean that any human being could work such a job.
John was loud.
John was an idiot.
John was a know-it-all and he drove all of us crazy from the first moment he joined our little “monastery.” He wouldn’t stop talking! And even though we would say, for example, that we didn’t see that show or watch that sport, he would keep going… and going… and going…
I remember during his first week he asked me about my writing. I started to reply, and then he interrupted by stating he always thought of reading and books as a girl thing. (I decided it was best not to say then I was considering writing a book on Jane Austen.)
Yeah, he lost me as a potential friend there.
It was one thing to be in a jail cell alone, it is another to share it with a loud personality, especially a judgmental one like one. He had a negative opinion about all of our activities and wouldn’t even touch the food in the cafeteria. Not even the secret cookies!
“Oh, everyone is gone,” he would say outloud to all of us in his snarky way, “Scott is putting on his CDs and headphones now.”
“That’s right, fucker,” I would think in response, “I’m going to Hogwarts!”
When John finally got transferred, it was not surprising to anyone (I always assumed that Janet had a hand in it). Even the supervisor was pleased (John had no idea what the supervisor was up to and would delay his rendezvous with long conversations) and bought us all food that night to celebrate.
Then we returned to silence again. Our brief excitement over…
When my wife finally finished graduate school, we moved to a different city for her new job. For me, this meant long drives each evening and afternoon until I could find something in the area.
I never told my wife, but that drive for me was not safe. Not safe at all. By the time I left that city it was already 1 AM; I was tired and it was an hour drive to deal with. I’m sure looking back that there were times my eyes might have closed (I missed exits a few times). And I did dodge deer more times than I care to mention. I remember once, swerving from an entire family that were on the road and spinning uncontrollably.
Strangely, I took comfort on these long drives from the truckers that shared the dark roads with me. I would follow behind one or aside one and that loud noise and shape would lead the way for me. Carry me. If they minded me driving near them like that, I couldn’t tell. But at that moment neither of us were alone on that road.
Maybe they knew as well then that I was one of them… part of the convoy.
On my last day on the job, my supervisor gave me an exit interview. He began by saying that if he knew I cared more he would have seen me moving up in management positions at the office. That thought floored me. He said I was smart, organized, and thought I had potential. “Not like everyone else here.”
I’m sure my mouth was hanging open.
He then asked me if I wanted a letter of recommendation. Before I could think, I replied with a very definite no.
When I left the office for the last time, the air felt different to me, life felt full of possibilities. I looked forward to regaining something I had lost working those evenings. And when I pulled away in my car, I first hummed that damn convoy song… and then I sang it outloud with a laugh.
I was not silent anymore.
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